Monday, March 17, 2014

Cleaning up a Strat after being in long-term (humid) storage

This very cool American Standard Stratocaster came in for a clean and a restring—normally a very straightforward job. However, it had been in storage for several years in a fairly humid environment and a lot of the metalwork, including the electrics, had become somewhat corroded.

It actually looks OK from that distance. Here are a few close-ups.

In addition to the dirt and grime, you can see that many of the screws have rusted quite badly. A quick test also revealed that the pots were scratchy, the switch was not working correctly and the output jack was making a lot of crackling noises.

A look down the neck shows corrosion on the frets, so these will need a bit of a clean and polish too.

Oh and... is that… blood?

The only way to deal with this is to dismantle it, but before I do that I’m going to take some measurements since it was actually playing pretty nice and I don’t want to change that if I can help it.

Measuring the saddle positions:

And the pickup heights:

First we remove the strings.

Let's deal with the tremolo next. First we remove the rear tremolo cover.

See the mould? Not the first time I've seen that on a guitar here in Taiwan.

We can lift out the tremolo springs by hand since the strings have already been removed (note the rust on the end of the spring).

And then we carefully lift up the guitar, leaving the tremolo unit sitting on the bench since there is no longer anything holding it in place.

Finally (as far as the tremolo goes), we remove the studs—these were just screwed all the way in so no need to take measurements in this case).

Now it’s time to remove the scratchplate/pickguard. 

Some of those screws were awfully rusty. We’ll deal with that later.

Now the neck. Four screws and off it comes:

Both the neck stamp and the body stamp confirm what the serial number suggests—that the guitar was made in 1989.

Check out the corrosion on those frets.

The jack socket plate needs removing too.

You can see above how tarnished the jack is., I’m going to try to clean this with contact cleaner, but experience tells me that it’s not going to be enough and that I’m going to end up replacing it anyway (and guess what, I did).

Let’s have a look under the scratchplate.

It looks OK till you have a closer look at the switch. As you can see, it’s also suffered from corrosion. No wonder it was cutting out.

Both the pots and the switch get some attention with the contact cleaner.

After applying that, I make sure to twist all three pots back and forth several times and move the switch between positions repeatedly in order to let the clearer do its work before it dries out too much.

Back to the body finish for a moment, I tried naptha first, but some of this grime is just too stubborn (most of it actually), so I switched to Pledge. Pledge did a great job. Just remember that this stuff leaves a wax residue, so never spray it directly onto strings, for example.

As for the scratchplate, let’s get those knobs and switch tip off first. I was able to pull these off by hand, though there are tricks for if these just won’t budge (such as wrapping a shoelace around the bottom of them and pulling up).

I don’t want to remove the switch if I can help it, so I take off one screw at a time to clean them.

While the screw's off, I take the opportunity to clean that area of the scratchplate.

These (and all of the other screws) are held in a vice and cleaned with a wire brush one by one.

The scratchplate itself is cleaned with Pledge. Most of it cleaned up pretty easily except a stubborn red mark (wait, was that blood too?), but that too came off eventually.

The scratchplate is screwed back on at this point.

The knobs and switch tip are cleaned in soapy water with a toothbrush.

And there they are back in place looking lovely, I’m sure you’ll agree. (I guess at some stage in this guitar’s life someone replaced the lower TONE knob.)

The jack plate is replaced after having been cleaned with Autosol metal polish.

Now we need to deal with the tremolo.

I don’t want to change the heights of the saddles, so I set them aside in order.

The screws and springs go in a dish of oil.

Meanwhile it’s a lot easier to tackle the tremolo base plate now that it's dismantled.



The saddles themselves are simply brushed with a soft brush. I don’t want to change the saddle heights if I can help it and the saddles are in pretty good condition anyway.

The screws and springs are given a quick scrub with a toothbrush.

And the tremolo unit is put back together with the saddles put in their original positions as measured at the beginning.

Before putting the tremolo studs back on the guitar, some petroleum jelly is placed on the threads and also on the little collar where the tremolo unit will lean against. This will act as a lubricant and help stop any undesirable creaking noises, etc when using the tremolo.

The studs and the tremolo are placed back into the guitar and it is carefully flipped over (remember there’s nothing holding the tremolo unit in place at this stage).

Before putting the tremolo springs back on, they get a quick clean and are then also given some petroleum jelly at both ends for the same reasons as outlined above.

Next, we clean up the neck.

After an initial clean with Pledge, each fret is cleaned with 0000 steel wool, using a fretboard protector to, well, protect the fretboard.

Polishing compound is then used on both the frets and the fretboard.

 The nut slots are cleaned out with a dental floss thing. I’m really not sure what they’re called.

The neck is placed back on the guitar (the neck plate was cleaned with Autosol and the screw heads were cleaned with a steel brush), and the guitar is strung up.

A tremolo arm is added since the old one was lost.

And we’re done.


Rajah Cheech Beldone said...

Excellent tutorial, sir.

I don't suppose you have any suggestions for fighting the damp rot in a back side dugout? I have a retrofitted EMG pickup with the battery stowed in the back there and it's a festival of mo(u)ld and corrosion.

Again, very nice work, many thanks.

stu said...

Excellent question, Rajah. I should really have gone into a bit more detail when I said it wasn't the first time I'd seen mould here in Taiwan. I've taken to leaving a silica gel pack in each of my guitar cases and swapping them out every few months. Unless you're going to store the guitar in a humidity-controlled environment, this is really the best solution I've found so far.

Also, if you're going to store it long-term, you might want to consider removing the battery.

Thanks for popping in!

Unknown said...

Nice job and a lovely looking guitar. Where do you buy the gel packs in Taiwan?


stu said...

Hey Adam,

They're generally available in the "everything" stores you find over here.

Tina L. said...

I recently bought a guitar and really like this post. I'm saving it to favorites and coming back when I need it again :)

Mindy Mones said...

My BF needed help like this. Thanks for sharing <3

Bernice Parsons said...

Wow! Your Strat looks like it has been revived to its mint condition. Polishing the screws is probably one of the most difficult thing to accomplish, and it’s good to know that you have the right procedure for it. Anyway, thanks for sharing this with us. Have a great day!

Bernice Parsons @ Badger Anodising Ltd.

Rob D said...

Great post , although I thought it was a big no no to use pledge to polish any guitar?

stu said...

Hey Rob, it's probably not a good idea to spray it on strings since it leaves a waxy residue that would clog them up (some would argue that leaving wax on the fretboard might not be smart because is would eventually get into the strings, although personally I've never had a problem with it, and in this case I cleaned the fretboard afterwards with rubbing conpond anyway). Probably shouldn't matter on pickups, but I wouldn't argue with anyone that chose to avoid doing that. On a guitar body itself should be perfectly fine though. In short, don't get it on the strings. Always a good idea to spray it on the cloth rather than the guitar as you can control a lot better where it ends up.

Mihai Moșoi said...

Hello Stu, how you cleaned the mold from the inside? what kind of solution you used?